Veterinary Inflation Observations

Have you been wondering recently why your veterinary care feels like it costs so much more than it used to? You are not alone.

I was digging into the inflation numbers over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and I was fascinated by the difference between veterinary inflation (yes, they do track such a thing!) and the consumer price inflation.

For example (see graph below), if I look at January 2007 to March 2011 (just about as long as we've been selling pet insurance policies), while my wages went up 10% over that time (yay!), my vet bills went up 25% in the same period (ouch!). Vet bills are definitely taking up more of a bite out of my free cash than they used to. 

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 
You can clearly see the impact of the Great Recession in the second half of 2008 in the CPI, with the year's inflation being practically zero (-0.1%); however, veterinary inflation chugged along at 7% that year and didn't slow down until 2009.

Another point to note, the Consumer Price Index is defined as the change in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services and Veterinary Services are just a subset of those goods and services. The representative basket of goods is based on typical family spending in 2007/2008 so changes in the types of veterinary services (such as more TPLO surgeries or MRIs) are not reflected.

So chances are, as veterinary medicine has grown in the last 3 years, and more complex and more costly procedures are more common, your veterinary spending increases are even more than those shown above.

It's amazing we can afford our cats and dogs at all, don't you think?

If you are wondering what impact veterinary inflation has on pet insurance premiums, check out my blog post on how inflation and other factors affect pet insurance premiums using Trupanion as a case study.

Just for fun, here's another graph for 2001 - 2011. It really shows the bite into your household income over the last 10 years.

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 2001.2011 
For the data hounds out there, you can find the data on the BLS website:

  • CPI - All Items US City Average Seasonally Adjusted
  • Veterinary Inflation - Veterinary Services US City Average Seasonally Adjusted????

Bald spot at vaccination site on a dog

We recently had a question on the Embrace Facebook page about  a bald spot on a dog:

Q: It turns out that a tiny bald spot on my daughter's dog is likely a result of the rabies vaccine. She may or may not grow her hair back. The vet doesn't think she should get rabies vaccines again. Anybody know how to regrow hair or anybody have a dog regrow hair after this happened to them?

Since I'm not a veterinarian, I turned to Dr Rex Riggs, one of our veterinary advisors, for help with this question.

A: Rarely you can get a small area of alopecia in the area of where the rabies vaccine was given. You don't need to treat them, as they are just cosmetic. Sometimes if persistent, I will use some tacrolimus ointment. This is not a reason to stop rabies vaccine. This is purely cosmetic.

Have you noticed balding at vaccination sites on your dogs? Did the hair grow back again?

Claim Example: allergies in a dog

What does 3 years of allergy treatment cost?  $2,500 and climbing. Ouch.

As an example of the cost of general allergies in a dog, I found Jack, a mixed breed dog born in 2005 who has suffered from allergies since 2008. He lives in Dallas TX, so while not an inexpensive city to live in for veterinary care, certainly not the most expensive.

Here are his charges related to allergies over the last 3 years (he tore his cruciate ligament early on as well - he's had a lot of health issues going on.)

Date of Visit Claim Status Diagnosis Covered Amount Paid
4/8/2008 Paid colitis 131.00 117.90
4/16/2008 Paid allergies 99.00 89.10
5/7/2008 Paid allergies, diarrhea, ear infection 164.50 148.05
6/13/2008 Paid allergies 77.00 69.30
7/1/2008 Paid allergic dermatitis 252.00 226.80
8/20/2008 Paid allergy flare up 99.00 89.10
9/23/2008 Deduct allergy flare up 44.00 0.00
11/1/2008 Paid allergies 74.95 17.05
4/10/2009 Paid Allergy Testing 265.00 238.50
4/24/2009 Paid Allercept Allergy Initial Treatment 200.50 180.45
5/28/2009 Paid Allergic Otitis 45.00 40.50
6/30/2009 Paid Medications, Allergy 156.00 140.40
12/29/2009 Paid Medications, Allergy 156.00 50.40
6/28/2010 Paid Medications, Allergy 168.30 151.47
1/14/2011 Paid Allergy Refill Treatment Set 165.50 58.95
1/20/2011 Paid Skin Lesion, Pain Instability 117.00 105.30
3/22/2011 Paid Allergy Flare Up 194.23 174.81
4/15/2011 Paid Superficial External Otitis 83.20 74.88
Total     2,492.18 1,972.96

Jack's pet insurance policy costs $64.31 a month for a $100 annual deductible, 10% copay percentage, $10,000 annual maximum with prescription drug coverage.  

Are these the kind of expenses you are seeing with your dog allergies?

Related Posts:
May is Allergy Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Allergies in Pets
Can dogs be allergic to bee and yellow jacket stings?
Claim Example: allergies in a dog


Can dogs be allergic to bee and yellow jacket stings?

Amazingly, yes! Maybe it's just me, but I thought that only people succumbed to such things but dogs and cats can be allergic to insect stings just like humans can.

We recently had an example of Chloe, a 6 month old Bulldog, who was in the garden where there were yellow jackets flying around and it appears she was stung and her face became severely swollen. Poor baby!

Charles, her pet parent, took her to the emergency room and they treated her with epinephrine (opens airway and improves blood pressure) and diphenhydramine (slower acting antihistamine).

10/29/2010 Emergency Exam $105.00 $105.00
10/29/2010 Epinephrine 1:1000 30ml/ml $42.75 $42.75
10/29/2010 Diphenhydramine Injection $42.75 $42.75
10/29/2010 Hospitalization $42.00 $42.00
Total   $232.50 $232.50

Here's how her $200 annual deductible and 20% copay worked for Chloe's pet insurance policy:

STEP 1: Calculate Potential Refund   
  Billed Amount:     $232.50
  Covered Charges:   $232.50
  Annual deductible remaining $200.00
  subtotal $32.50
  Copay 20% (copayment)  $6.50
Potential Refund      $26.00
STEP 2: Compare potential refund against your annual maximums
     Annual Maximum     $10,000.00
     Prior refunds for this policy year $0.00
     Coverage remaining   $10,000.00
Your total refund is:     $26.00

Now that Chloe has met her annual deductible, she only has the 20% copayment percentage applied to her covered charges for the remainder of her policy year. 

The treatment wasn't too expensive considering it could have been life-threatening but certainly not something to be sneezed at.

Has your dog or cat ever had a reaction to an insect bite such as a bee or yellow jacket?

Related Posts:
May is Allergy Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Allergies in Pets
Can dogs be allergic to bee and yellow jacket stings?
Claim Example: allergies in a dog

Guest Post: Allergies in Pets

Today, we have a guest post from Dr. Rex Riggs on the topic of allergies. Ironically, Dr. Riggs is allergic to cats! But he does talk about how allergies happen and what can be done about them. Dr. Rex Riggs is the owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is a veterinarian, and an Advisory Board member of Embrace Pet Insurance.

Allergies. I hate allergies. I have tree pollen allergies in the spring. I have grass allergies in the summer and house dust mite allergies all winter long. To cap it all off, I have cat allergies all year long! Oh well, it is what it is.

And What Exactly Are Allergies?

Allergies are bad for everyone including our pets. 

First we need to define just what an allergy is. There are some misunderstandings about what the immune system is actually doing. Our immune system is there to protect against evil enemies. Sometimes it goes too far. Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions, to things that are usually harmless.

Most people think that allergies happen when are immune system is suppressed. Quite the opposite.

Allergies are an exaggerated immune response or hypersensitivity, to specific things, called allergens. The allergens can be to pollen, dander, molds, dust mites etc. It often takes years for people and pets to “develop” allergies. Each time we are exposed to an allergen our bodies develop T-helper cells, a type of white blood cell. These T-helper cells will recognize a particular allergen and next time it sees that same allergen it attacks.

After multiple exposures to the same allergen, it can trigger an exaggerated response and we have signs of allergies. So, it is not the pollen that is “causing” the problem, it is our own immune system that is overachieving.

How Do Allergies in Pets Compare to Allergies in People?

In people, the cells coming into fight the allergen causes mainly a release of histamines. The histamines will cause swelling and congestion in our respiratory system or causes us to itch. So what do we do? We take Benadryl, Allegra or Claritin which are all anti-histamines which will counter act the histamines.

This is one of the major differences between human and pets.

Dogs and cats only release a fraction of the histamines we do. Probably only 10 to 20% of the amount. Hence that is why antihistamines only work in about 20% of our pets. Not to say antihistamine are not useful in veterinary medicine, but we need to combine them with other medications, such as fatty acids and steroids.

The other major difference is that allergies in people are most often manifested by respiratory signs with itching and gastrointestinal signs less prevalent. In our pets, their primary signs deal with their skin, with the gastrointestinal tract being affected less often.

Treating Allergies

Often when the word steroids come up, people get concerned. Steroids are not bad, if use in moderation and not given long term.

The steroids we use in animals is not the same ones the body builders and athletes abuse. Those are called anabolic steroids. They build up things such as muscle. The corticosteroids we use are catabolic steroids which will decrease reactions and with long term use actually tear down tissues. That is why using them 1 to 2 times a year is ok but if needed more often, we look for other treatments.

Which Pets Get Allergies?

Certain breeds of dogs are affected more often with allergies. Purebred dogs are much more likely to be affected, due to recessive genes being expressed by closer breedings. The more popular a breed, the more likely we are to see allergies. The top four allergic breeds in our practice are Golden Reteivers, Bichons, Labrador Retrievers and West Highland Terriers.

Can Allergies Be Cured?

Everyone wants a cure for allergies, but it is not possible. You will always have the T-helper cells primed to attack. So we just try to decrease the response, and we are very successful in most cases with treatment tailored to each individual animal.

So don’t be discouraged. The vet might need to try a number of different treatments before they find what works for your pet, but they will find the “cure” for your pet.

Related Posts:
May is Allergy Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Allergies in Pets
Can dogs be allergic to bee and yellow jacket stings?
Claim Example: allergies in a dog
Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.